The Emergence of NHS Charities

The Emergence of NHS Charities

This guest blog from Vanessa Holmes, Head of Fundraising at Milton Keynes Hospital Charity, explores the challenges and benefits of fundraising for a hospital charity
Vanessa Holmes, Head of Fundraising at Milton Keynes Hospital Charity

I often think I have the best of both worlds in my job - I work for our wonderful NHS and the charity sector. Fundraising for the NHS is a great mix of raising funds for something close to your heart – everyone of us, at some point in our lives, will inevitably need to use it – as well as knowing there’s a tangibility to the projects you’re supporting.

You’re close to the cause and that’s a brilliant motivator.

Despite this however, the existence of NHS charities is still not widely recognised. For instance, aside from a handful of very well-established NHS charities such as Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity, would anyone know there are more than 250 NHS charities in the UK?  

Similarities have been drawn between the NHS charity sector and where hospice fundraising was 25 years ago. And it makes sense – both types of charity are place-based and deeply rooted within the communities they serve. As a consequence, they draw a huge amount of their support from patients and families. At the charity which I work for, Milton Keynes Hospital Charity, more than 65% of our donors and supporters have had an experience at the hospital and wish to give something back. (As a bonus, my team and I get to meet many of these grateful patients and families – and they’re some of the most inspiring and passionate people I’ve ever had the fortune to come across).

Moreover, because NHS charities rarely work within the same region, there is so much potential for information sharing, learning and collaboration. We also have our own network and representative body called NHS Charities Together, to support charity and professional development.

But despite there being so much growth and development within this sector, I still can’t escape the question:

I’m a UK tax payer, so why should I donate to your charity when my taxes support the NHS?

I’m probably asked this more than anything else, and the answer is simple – NHS funds only go so far, and our NHS charities exist to fund special extras and enhance the patient care and experience. We fund the nice things that sit outside of statutory budgets. On a face to face level, that’s easy to communicate and I love witnessing those lightbulb moments when people “get it.” But the challenge lies in reaching the people who pass you over as soon as they read the word “hospital” in your charity name.

The NHS is one of the most cherished and instantly recognisable brands in the world, so it can be really hard when as a NHS charity, you need to break away from the corporate hospital brand and promote your own charitable aims and objectives.

One of the first things I worked on when starting in my role at Milton Keynes Hospital Charity was to create a brand and separate vision, mission and values for the charity – to set us apart from the hospital and try to mitigate that risk of people thinking we were replacing NHS funding. This is happening across the NHS charity sector, and I really think we’re starting to invest in the branding and marketing of our charities as separate to the hospitals we raise funds for – whether that’s creating new logos or websites, to changing the tone of voice. It’s really exciting to see the potential being realised.

Because there is so much potential for NHS charities.

NHS charities are becoming more and more proactive with their fundraising and marketing –and I love following Barts Charity, East and North Hertfordshire Hospitals Charity and Oxford University Hospitals Charity on social media, to name but a few.

Did you know that despite the NHS charity sector being seen as “emerging”, as a collective, NHS Charities give an incredible £1 million every day to support the NHS; funding projects and items that make a tangible difference to patients, families and the staff who treat them. That’s pretty special.

So, considering the continuous changes to both sides of our coin, the NHS and the charity sector, I wonder what else is to come? Will NHS charities continue to develop along the path of the highly trusted regional hospice charities or will they follow a different trajectory?

Submitted by Elizabeth Palfreman (not verified) on 3 Oct 2019


More than nice extras

A fascinating read Vanessa and interesting that you have drawn parallels with the hospice sector.

You state in your article that your charity exists 'to fund special extras and enhance patient care and experience' the 'nice things' that sit outside of statutory budgets. This is the sharp difference between the nhs charities and local hospices. The hospice fundraisers raise money to pay doctors and nurses, transport and catering, medical equipment, petrol for community nurses, the list goes on. None of these are nice extras they are essential.

Surely the question is not why should I donate to a hospital charity when my taxes support the nhs, but why is it acceptable that care for the dying is paid for by marathon runners, cake makers and the sale of second hand clothing in charity shops which goes towards the £1 bn the public contribute to funding hospice care each year.

Next week is Hospice Care Week, and our theme is 'This is what it takes' drawing attention to the myriad of services that hospices provide inside and out of hospice buildings, not maintained by the state, and what it takes financially and manpower to deliver this year in and out.

Submitted by Gill Edelman (not verified) on 3 Oct 2019


As the former CEO of a charity supporting a major research and teaching hospital, it’s also really important to highlight 1. the role of these charities in supporting research and innovation in their leading specialties and cross hospital/Trust initiatives and 2. the importance of articulating an additionality policy that explicitly addresses the issue of ‘what we fund’ Vs what is funded via taxation.

Submitted by Mrs Angela Glynn (not verified) on 7 Oct 2019


Your blog piece on NHS charities was interesting, Vanessa, and it is good to see someone who clearly enjoys her work. Raising money for hospitals is tough - I have been involved for many years in this area. From the mid-80's fundraising for Marie Curie, through the 90's with Gt Ormond St. following the successful conclusion of the Capital Appeal, with various hospices and...eventually... NHS charities. I don't see them emerging as the hospice movement has done. They are totally different organisations. Hospices are independent of the NHS, although dependent on CCG's to commission beds. Hospital charities are, in my experience, tied closely to the hospital - often with shared management and Trustees. It has always struck me that there is potential for a conflict of interest. Indeed, I have witnessed conflict in two such scenarios. So, my conclusion is that the NHS charities need to seek independence from the NHS in order to be completely transparent. It is only then that this important sector can flourish for the benefit of patients, families and the staff who deliver outstanding care.

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